Pope Francis landed in Baghdad on Friday for his most risky foreign trip since his election in 2012, saying he felt duty-bound to make the “emblematic” visit because Iraq had suffered so much for so long.
The Pope was welcomed by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi upon his arrival at at Baghdad International Airport. He was received with songs and dances by performers in traditional costumes.
Iraq is deploying thousands of additional security personnel to protect the 84-year-old pope during the visit, which comes after a spate of rocket and suicide bomb attacks raised fears for his safety.
The Iraq trip is the Pope’s first outside Italy since November 2019.
He is due to hold mass at a Baghdad church, meet Iraq’s top Shi’ite Muslim cleric in the southern city of Najaf and travel north to Mosul, a former Islamic State stronghold, where churches and other buildings there still bear the scars of conflict.
Violence against Iraq’s minority religious groups, especially when a third of the country was being run by Islamic State, has reduced its ancient Christian community to a fifth of its once 1.5 million people.